Tuesday, April 26, 2011

No sophomore blues for Fleet Foxes' "Helplessness"

Fleet Foxes - "Helplessness Blues"
Sub Pop
-out May 3
4.5 / 5

As one of the most anticipated albums of the (indie) year, the Fleet Foxes have their work cut out for them. Having delayed the release of Helplessness Blues since announcing the sophomore album last year, critics and fans alike have been wondering: is this second release going to be as brilliant and polished pop-perfect as their self-titled debut? The answer to that question, is this: Helplessness Blues is good. Quite good. Rife with their celestial male harmonies (which are most of the show) and clean, classic guitar, Helplessness Blues will repay fans itching for more Foxes and undoubtedly satisfy the newcomer. While this release may come up half a step short of their debut in terms of song polishing (a whole step in lyrics), the Foxes make up for that by reaching out a further in their song construction. With "The Shrine/ An Argument," the eight-minute mini-epic on side B, fans (and critics, too) can't help but to prickle with the potential of this band. Does this track betoken a longer form for the Foxes? Will they consider, perhaps, a concept album? Hopefully yes and yes, but regardless of what that future outcome might be, there are still plenty of fantastic baroque pop pieces here, certainly enough to highly recommend the whole.

Stream "Helplessness Blues" on NPR until the release.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Jazz Month - Al Di Meola

Al Di Meola - "Elegant Gypsy"

Jazz fusion in the 70s was rife with guitar talent. John McLaughlin, Pat Metheny, and this guy (see glasses, left). Di Meola is a one-man band, and on Elegant Gypsy, he showcases his out-and-out rock-jazz style, never rushed, and chock-a-block with insane Yngwie Malmsteen-speed guitar riffs. This man's talent makes us sick. So does his shredding ("Race with the Devil on Spanish Highway") and, you'd've never guessed it, acoustic duet with Paco de Lucia on "Lady of Rome, Sister of Brazil." At this point in his career, Di Meola had come off the breakup of star-studded Return to Forever, and we wanted to make sure you'd never run out of albums by RTF and its members. But seriously, this is a fusion masterpiece, and even if you've forsworn fusion in favor of acoustic jazz, this album is worth your time. One of our Jazz Albums You Must Own.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Jazz Month: McCoy Tyner

McCoy Tyner - "The Real McCoy"

Straight jazz never had it so good. As John Coltrane's pianist on A Love Supreme, Tyner's career was only just getting started. Here he's assembled the rhythm section that drove A Love Supreme, with a cooking Elvin Jones on percussion, fiery saxophonist Joe Henderson, and, of course, the legendary Ron Carter. The man who's appeared on more classic jazz albums than, jeesh, we can't really count (excepting maybe Paul Chambers). The opener, "Passion Dance": awesome. The closer, "Blues on the Corner": likewise awesome. Everything's incredible about this album, including even the logo (attention Blue Note, send a shirt this way). The tight musicianship, coupled with tracks that just grab you, have kept this one a personal favorite for the past... maybe five years? More? Who knows; just know that a friend who does not appreciate The Real McCoy is a friend without taste. Harsh, but you know it's true.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Jazz Month: Chick Corea and Return to Forever

Chick Corea - "Light as a Feather"

Coming across this album in college was like a heaven-send; "Spain" is one of his best compositions, in humble opinion, and Flora Purim's vocals give a summery, blistery fire to "500 Miles High" and the album as a whole. Stanley Clarke's bass blows away the competition, giving the kind of performance that even Jaco Pastorius' fans would be envious of about five years later. And while everything's excellent about Light as a Feather, truly, it is the main man, the piano man who shines: Chick Corea's sheer virtuosity and unwavering brilliance on electric piano is what makes him, without a doubt, the most challenging, complex, and satisfying living (jazz) pianist. The sheer density of this album is staggering, but what makes it brilliant is its simplicity; it is just as easy to pick up on the first try, and just as satisfying on the 20th spin. This is the jazz album for those who can't get into jazz (technically, it's jazz/fusion). First-class musicianship, excellent songs, and the kind of groove that doesn't require a jazz background are a few among the many reasons Light as a Feather is a Jazz Album You Must Own.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Jazz Month: John Coltrane

John Coltrane - A Love Supreme

The granddaddy of all modern jazz albums, we've decided to start the jazz retrospection with A Love Supreme. There is no reason not to own this album: it is a classic, the classic, and just owning it makes you more interesting. As Coltrane's musical meditations on God, the master saxophonist started musing on math and the sciences, and here you can hear the sum product of all those mental wonderings and wanderings. It's grand, eye-(or ear-) opening music that challenges the very reason that music is played. That said, A Love Supreme is complex, brilliant, too, and not easy to grasp in the first couple spins. But when you do get it, the payoff is enormous, better than winning the state lottery (we'll give you a leg up: that last track is Coltrane's poem in the liner notes). Seriously. Mega points if you own a vinyl of this one. A Love Supreme is The Jazz Album You Must Own.

National Jazz Month!! Yippee!!

Hello everyone,
You thought this little blog forgot about National Jazz Month, did you? Well, Al Di Meola put us in the mood to send you a few CDs that You Must Own. Yes, capitalized. These are the kinds of albums that you can find on any music-lover's shelf, the kind that jazz aficionados own multiple copies of, and that jazz snobs can't help but admit are absolutely brilliant. (Yes, you can assume they're each 5 of 5 on this site.) We're finishing out the week with a diverse set of albums that we'd recommend to everyone, and though we're lacking in Miles Davis, our first post does have the tenor sax powerhouse that is...

Monday, April 18, 2011

Al Di Meola's "Pursuit" comes up a little short

Al Di Meola - "Pursuit of Radical Rhapsody"
-out now
3 / 5

When judging a record by such a technically renowned master of the fusion guitar as Mr. Di Meola, there are a few difficult things to consider: technical prowess, the crafting of the songs, and how they match up to past accomplishments. Ultimately, we want to tell you whether to put your money on this CD or another. That first one, technical prowess, is no issue here: Di Meola is as fine as he's ever been, and has definitely retained his delicate touch. The songs, though, lack a bit of that je ne sais quoi that might make you (you the purchaser, the ultimate guide on this blog) put this CD in over, let's say, Bela Fleck or fellow Return to Forever-mate Chick Corea. And now the third part, that these songs lack the immediacy of some of his back catalog. Yes, we're going to be unfair and say "Elegant Gypsy" and "Land of the Midnight Sun" are albums that deserve time on the turntable, but it's true; "Pursuit," while technically fine and dense, misses some of that fire that makes for memorable songs. Fans of Al's complex song construction and supple technique will enjoy this release, especially the intriguing "Michelangelo's 7th Child" and beautiful "Bona," but it doesn't quite catch the imagination or set the heart beating as 2007's "Diabolic Inventions and Seduction for Solo Guitar." We want to say it's excellent, and in some ways it is, but unless you've already got those other albums (and some others), we can think of a few better places to start. Good for the entrenched fan, but the casual listener can invest better.

Ed.'s note: During the writing of this review, another classic Di Meola CD was acquired. Currently in pursuit of a radical vinyl of it.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Pop/rockers should hold their ears to Tin Can Radio

Tin Can Radio - "Chase the Sun, Hold the Night"
Self- Released
-out now
3.5 / 5

If there's one thing that can be said about the debut album from Aussie rock group Tin Can Radio, it's this: poppy. But in this case, saying one thing isn't enough: "Chase the Sun, Hold the Night" is energetic, fun, and contains some varied, really well-constructed music. The kind of music that surprises, just catches you off-guard. "A Deafening Silence" is a perfect example of this, opening like a light pop act before breaking into thrumming guitars and punked-up dancy vocals. What these guys do best, in order, is 1. Maintain excellent rhythm and cadence, vocal and otherwise; 2. Polish their tracks like each one's a '72 Chevy Camaro, and 3. Pull out guitar riffs that must have been played a million times, and make them sound fresher than a Prince of Bel-Air (just try the bridge on "Hot Trash"). Their biggest detractor is that they're playing to a crowded market (pop/rock with a bit of punk) and they might have a little trouble sticking out; also, they hit on some synth that feels a bit aged for them. Regardless, this is a fun, enjoyable release by any stretch of the imagination, and comes recommended.

Listen to "Skeletons."

Monday, April 11, 2011

Panda Bear's "Tomboy" in seven takes

Panda Bear - "Tomboy"
Paw Tracks
-out tomorrow
4 / 5

It's here. It's finally here. After Animal Collective's incredible Merriweather Post Pavilion, the much awaited solo album from AC frontmant Panda Bear (aka Noah Lennox) has finally come to the masses. If you've kept up with the creation of Tomboy, the tracks here have been released on separate singles, though this LP offers different versions of the tracks. First impression: this is going to take some getting used to. Just like MPP, the denseness of this album is something of an acquired taste, and P Bear doesn't give much ground. Around listen 3-4 is when you finally get used to the almost cyclical, wandering drone of the electronic background (and vocals, for that matter), and by the time you hit listen #5, you've probably made up your mind. The sixth spin is when we're able to pull it apart a bit, finding this album far less poppier than MPP, which may certainly be a detractor, and by the seventh try, it finally sunk in. Not an album for lightweights, and if you didn't enjoy MPP for some reason (be it dizziness or nausea from all the disparate parts), this is probably not for you; same if you're expecting a clear verse-chorus-verse construction. Still, grand, uplifting, and certainly different; the perfect album for the adventurous listener, though a step down from MPP. (Plus, it comes with a solid live set!) Recommended.

Listen to "Surfer's Hymn."

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Dirty River Bourbon Show settles like bathtub mix

Dirty Bourbon River Show - Volume Two
-out now
2.5 / 5

(Ed.'s Note: yes, there is a Volume One. No, it's not reviewed here.) True to the creole mish-mash of the Big Easy, the Dirty Bourbon River Show mix rock and blues (with a shot of jazziness) and perform the kind of music you'd expect to find marching down Bourbon Street on uneasy legs. Volume Two is soaked in tradition, and eschews the tight, efficient sound of pop/rock for the deceptively "lazy" sound of the south. It's by-and-far a more difficult act to pull off, especially in studio, and there's no doubt fans of this fun, swaggering American music look forward to a spare number of releases; but music, like the mob, should keep pulling us back in. For Volume Two's quirks and smirks, The DBRS don't make that connection, either through exceptional vocals and instrumentals, or through inventive songwriting (or through intimidation, for that matter). The biggest crime this album commits is that the opener "Mad" promises energy and exuberance, and what Volume Two delivers is more flat than that OK Cola in the fridge. Take a pass.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Streams: Panda Bear, TVotR, Paul Simon, Alison Krauss

What a crazy week for album streams! Try to catch up on "Tomboy" on NPR, and if you miss it, we'll try to get a review for ya. Or, if you prefer the classics to crazy electronic layering, Paul Simon's "So Beautiful or So What" is up there, along with Alison Krauss' gorgeous "Paper Airplane."
Oh, and TV on the Radio follows up their brilliant "Dear Science" (probably one of 2008's best) with "Nine Types of Light." We're not enthused about the Rhapsody website in general, but it doesn't seem to require a login or anything, so maybe - perhaps - we might change our minds about it. Dunno. Depends how good this album is.
Enjoy enjoy enjoy!

"Strange Song" takes Cohen's to Nadia Kazmi's world

Nadia Kazmi - "Strange Song"
Zero to One
-out now
3 / 5

Mondo props to Miss Kazmi for conjuring the idea: take Leonard Cohen's songs, set them to a guitar rock beat, and just pound the living indie out of them. And when you get something like her smoky, sultry "I'm Your Man," then there's no denying that there's something special in this young singer. Nadia strikes the right amount of sensuality and gloominess, and when that guitar hooks you on "True Love Leaves No Traces," we're sure you'll be smitten by an old white guy's music. There's no doubt here that Kazmi adores the old coot, or at least his music, which helps this album enormously. Nonetheless, that's not to say it's perfect: true to indie form, she hits some "juicy notes" in the opener, and much of the album strikes the same dark, gloomy mood. As an experiment in Cohen, it's fabulous and entertaining; as an album on the shelf, it's a shade too monochromatic, which is strange considering how vibrant the music should be. "Strange Song" on the whole doesn't disappoint, not if you've been waiting for new interpretations of some true classics, but it doesn't surprise, either (at least not from an indie point of view). What a brilliant idea!; just wish we loved it.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Ray Davies has friends. A lot of friends.

Ray Davies - "See My Friends"
Decca Records
-out April 5
3.5 / 5

In the interest of full disclosure, let's get something out of the way: The Kinks > The Beatles any day of the week (honestly). But seeing a collaboration this big almost evokes those ginormous humanitarian causes celebs sang about in the 80s; also, Davies hasn't penned a new one here. Coming off of 2006's brilliant "Other People's Lives" (and the excellent follow-up, 2008's "Working Man's Cafe"), one has to admit "See My Friends" looks like a creative rest for one of rock's (and punk's) most influential songwriters. What it boils down to is this: the album is something of a mixed bag. The lows: Paloma Faith tries too hard on "Lola," and Metallica, though cool-sounding, don't really add much more to "You Really Got Me" than Van Halen already did (though: imagine what Karen O would do on this track). To be expected from a reprise album. The surprise is the freshness that some of these musicians bring to the songs: Mumford and Sons sing "Days/ This Time Tomorrow," tearing it out as if it were one of their originals; Amy McDonald is so perfect on "Dead End Street," we argue this recording's perhaps better than the original; and Jackson Browne adds '"stunning" to the description of the already gorgeous "Waterloo Sunset." The verdict? Davies fans shouldn't fear buying a cheesy "greatest hits" revamp; that is to say, it should tide them (us included) over until the next original. New listeners have a good place to start on the Kinks library, but we're going to suggest picking up "...Are the Village Green Preservation Society" and "Lola" before this one. Still fun, still recommended.